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DANGER: They Aim to Squelch Our Internet Liberty Under Cover of “Copyright.”

Posted on Thursday, 3rd November 2011 @ 05:13 AM by Text Size A | A | A

Could the Donkey on the Cover Photo be a Copyright Infringement?

Looks like Congress has declared war on the internet

Many internet users in the United States have watched with horror as countries like France and Britain have proposed or instituted so-called “three strikes” laws,
which cut off internet access to those accused of repeated acts of
copyright infringement. Now the U.S. has its own version of this kind of
law, and it is arguably much worse: the Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced in the House this week,
would give governments and private corporations unprecedented powers to
remove websites from the internet on the flimsiest of grounds, and
would force internet service providers to play the role of copyright
police.

To recap a bit of history, the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA is the House version of a previous bill proposed by the Senate, which was known as the PROTECT-IP Act
(a name that was an abbreviation for “Preventing Real Online Threats to
Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property”). That in turn
was a rewritten version of a previous proposed bill that was introduced
in the Senate last year. Not wanting to be outdone by their Senate
colleagues when it comes to really long acronyms, the House version is also known as
the E-PARASITE Act, which is short for “Enforcing and Protecting
American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation.”

Copyright holders win, free speech and an open Internet lose

What it really is, however, is a disaster for the internet. As the
Electronic Frontier Foundation notes in a post on the proposed
legislation, the law would not only require ISPs to remove websites from
the global network at the request of the government or the courts (by
blocking any requests to the central domain-name system that directs
internet traffic), but would also be forced to monitor their users’ behavior in order to police acts of copyright infringement.
Providers who do not comply with these requests and requirements would
be subject to sanctions. And in many cases, legal hearings would not be
required. As Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said of the PROTECT-IP Act:

At the expense of legitimate commerce, PIPA’s
prescription takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet
when a more balanced and targeted approach would be more effective. The
collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very
integrity of the Internet.

In effect, the new law would route around many of the protections in
the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, including the “safe harbor”
provisions (a number of law professors have said that they believe the proposed legislation would be unconstitutional
because it is a restraint on freedom of speech). The idea that ISPs and
internet users can avoid penalties if they remove content once they
have been notified that it is infringing, for example, wouldn’t apply
under the new legislation — and anyone who provides tools that allow
users to access blacklisted sites would also be subject to penalties.

In addition to using what some are calling the “internet death penalty” of removing infringing websites from the DNS system
so they can’t be found, the proposed bill would also allow copyright
holders to push for websites and services to be removed from search
engine results and to have their supply of advertising cut off — and
would require that payment companies like PayPal and ad networks comply
with these orders. If you liked what PayPal and others did when they shut off donations to WikiLeaks, you’re going to love the new Stop Online Piracy Act.

Creating a firewall around the internet, just like China

According to Techdirt, which has been a vocal critic of the bill and its predecessors, the new legislation would create a “Great Firewall of America,”
similar to the firewall that the Chinese government uses to keep its
citizens from accessing certain websites and servers that it deems to be
illegal. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick notes that the new bill actually expands
the range of websites that could be targeted by the bill: the previous
version referred to sites that were “dedicated to infringing activities”
with no other obvious purpose, but the new law would allow the
government to target any site that has “only limited purpose or use”
other than infringement (by the government’s definition).

The bottom line is that if it passes and becomes law, the new act
would give the government and copyright holders a giant stick — if not
an automatic weapon — with which to pursue websites and services they believe are infringing on their content.
With little or no requirement for a court hearing, they could remove
websites from the internet and shut down their ability to be found by
search engines or to process payments from users. DMCA takedown notices
would effectively be replaced by this nuclear option, and innocent
websites would have to fight to prove that they deserved to be restored
to the internet — a reversal of the traditional American judicial
approach of being assumed innocent until proven guilty — at which point
any business they had would be destroyed.

That might make for the kind of internet that media and entertainment conglomerates would prefer, but it would clearly be a much diminished version of the internet we take for granted. Opponents of the bill have set up a website to try and convince voters to reject the legislation and tell their congressman not to support it.
Embedded below is an interview that Senator Wyden did at the recent Web
2.0 Summit about his views on the PROTECT-IP Act and why it needs to be
stopped:

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Stefan and Kevin Dooley

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